Expert on international demonisation of Israel praises Australia’s positive role

July 31, 2020 by  
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Professor Gerald Steinberg, the founder and President of NGO Monitor, dotted his presentation at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council’s (AIJAC’s) latest webinar, on “The campaign to delegitimise Israel within International Institutions” with positive references to Australia’s performance.

Professor Gerald Steinberg

For example, addressing the bias against Israel at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) he said there was no hope that the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) would reform, as that the structure of the organisation leads to two-thirds of its members being totalitarian states. The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) has a majority in three of the five regions through which members are elected, while the High Commissioner Michele Bachelet and the secretariat are also very sympathetic to its views. 

However, he continued, “I have to say that on the Human Rights Council Australia plays an outstanding role, really unique. These days the Americans are not members and Israel obviously is very much isolated, and Australia does play that role of speaking out against some of the most insane abuses of human rights as a means of demonising Israel.”
Steinberg explained that he founded NGO Monitor in 2002 in the wake of the infamous UN Durban Conference against Racism, which was effectively the start of the BDS movement.
He was concerned about the way Non-Government Organisations, or NGOs, use their soft power to delegitimise and demonise Israel, in a way that is unique to Israel. The demonisation is not just about the country’s policies, but the actual country, and more and more opinion leaders have been drawn into this.
He noted that there are 50 different pro-Palestinian organisations in the UN, funded by governments including Australia’s. These NGOs are very powerful actors. Between them they get tens of billions of dollars in funding every year.
He singled out UNRWA, the UN’s relief organisation for Palestinian refugees, as a particularly intense place for the formation of virulently anti-Israel views.
He noted that NGO Monitor tracks 255 organisations, and there are two kinds – those that purport to protect human rights and those that provide aid.
Regarding Australia, Steinberg added that Australia is one of the best countries at tracking its money given to NGOs, and acts in a transparent manner in clarifying priorities. Europe, Steinberg says, is far worse. 
As an example of humanitarian aid being misused, Steinberg mentioned the Ma’an Development Corporation which gets tens of millions of dollars each year to carry out projects to help Palestinians. Many of these NGOs, Steinberg says, are connected to Palestinian terror groups, and there are high-level officials in the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) involved in Ma’an and other NGOs.
Steinberg said that none of the governments that provide funding to Ma’an have information about this, or carry out due diligence to monitor where their money is going. Once one government says it will fund a group, others tend to join in, and no-one checks if there are connections to terror.


However, he noted, this is beginning to change. Recently the Dutch Government, using research from NGO Monitor, acknowledged in Parliament that money it was giving to the United Workers Agricultural Committee (UAWC) paid the salaries of two PFLP terrorists, one of whom was the treasurer of the UAWC, and that since 2013, they had paid this NGO 20 million euros. The two terrorists were the head and a member of a PFLP terrorist cell that had killed a 17-year-old Israeli girl, Rina Shnerb, in a bombing attack last year.
Now that this problem has the attention of the Europeans, they have been freezing some funding, and requiring that Palestinian NGOs sign certification that none of their employees are members of terror groups in order to receive donations. Some have refused to sign.
The terror groups are also heavily involved in organisations that promote BDS and demonise Israel, he added.
The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), Steinberg said, has systematically “been one of the leaders in abusing and exploiting human rights and international law for demonising Israel. Double standards, hypocrisy, false claims in other words lies…” He added that HRW “really is a superpower”, with a budget of US$92 million a year, of private funding. He explained that there is a principle that human right organisations don’t employ people from the areas they’re monitoring, yet HRW employed three Palestinians with a history of anti-Israel activism to report and publish for it.
If you’re really concerned about human rights, he says, you don’t focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but on genuine human rights violations, such as those committed by China, for example. However, the UNHCR has Chinese diplomats as leaders of many of its internal frameworks “so that’s certainly not a serious approach to human rights…. The terrible things that are going on in Syria from many angles get almost no mention, including war crimes, in these kind of frameworks. You never see the International Criminal Court seriously dealing with these issues, because it’s politically difficult for them. They would be shut down. Israel’s an easy target. There’s only one Israel and the majority of the countries will support action against Israel…It would take politicians and political leaders with very strong backbones, and again I think that in Australia we see that.”
He pointed out that a lot of the submissions made by the ICC prosecutor, arguing that the ICC has jurisdiction over Israel even though Israel isn’t a signatory and Palestine isn’t a state, came directly from NGOs, “and there is a very strong layer of NGOs that are really providing on a day to day basis both the materials and the pressure, the lobbying on the structure of the International Criminal Court to join as a major platform for demonising Israel by opening up investigations.”
Steinberg mentioned that human rights organisations have a “halo effect” where there is an assumption that any group that calls itself a human rights organisation does wonderful things. Some governments are now pulling back though. He added that, in his experience, “In the Australian governmental framework, there is also an awareness and a concern that they have to be accountable for the funding that they provide, and not just simply sweep it under the rug.”
He mentioned the case in Israel whereby Mohammad Halabi the head of World Vision in Gaza is being tried for allegedly funnelling $50 million of charitable funds, including from Australia, to Hamas over ten years, and that Australia had since then frozen the funding to World Vision for Gaza “because they cannot show that the money from World Vision was in fact spent as they claimed it was spent.”
He concluded, “The lessons in my view haven’t all been completely learned, but among some responsible governments, there is an awareness that they do have to account, first and foremost to the taxpayers, for how this money is being spent.”

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